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Virgo

Star Lore

Virgo is the largest constellation of the Zodiac and the second largest constellation in the sky.

In many ancient cultures, the constellation represents maidens, fertility, and purity.

Ancient Mesopotamia

While almost all of the (Greek) Ptolemaic Constellations have their roots in ancient Mesopotamia, there was no virgin in Mesopotamian star charts.

Hipparcus noted that the constellation in Babylon was actually split in two, the "Furrow" in the eastern sector of Virgo and the "Fond of Erua" in the western sector.

The MUL.APIN star catalog refers to a part of this constellation as
MULABSIN3, "the Furrow", representing the goddess Shala and her ear of grain.

From the "Ear of Grain" stems the association of the constellation with Fertility. The current name for the constellation's brightest star Spica is Latin for "ear of grain".

The western half - the Frond of Erua - is depicted as a branch of the date palm, representing the goddess Erua, which was later named Sarpanit.

Both depictions, the Ear and the date palm branch remained even at times, when the constellation was already seen as Virgo.

Gavin White adds that "the autumnal abundance of the earth is symbolized by the two-fold goddesses of the Frond and the Furrow, which respectively represent the two principle cultivated foodstuffs of Babylonia dates and barley. ... The constellation of the Frond, which depicts the goddess Erua with a branch of the date palm, makes its annual appearance in the heavens as the dates start to ripen on the frond.

Sources: Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Gavin White: Babylonian Star Lore.

Shala (as an ear of grain) on a boundary stone of King
Meli-Shipak II (11861172 BC)
Source: mesopotamiangods.com

The "Fond" and the "Furrow"
Gavin White: Babylonian Star Lore


Greek Mythology

Early in Greek mythology, the constellation was associated with Demeter, the Greek goddess of harvest and agriculture, similar to the Babylonian interpretation.

There was also an association with the "star-maiden" Astraea, the virgin goddess of justice, innocence, purity and precision. In this interpretation, she is shown holding the scales of justice.

(In other early Greek interpretations, the same "scales" were seen as the claws of the scorpion. Eventually they became a separate constellation, Libra.)

Another early Greek myth, later retold by Hyginus identifies the constellation as Erigone, the daughter of Icarius of Athens.

Virgo with palm frond and scales
Aberystwyth Folios; Souce: Wikipedia

In this tale, Dionysus had taught Icarius how to make wine. Icarius gave his wine to some shepherds, who rapidly became drunk. Not knowing what had happened to them, the suspected Icarius of poisoning them and killed Icarius.

When Erigone and Icarius' dog Maera (see Canis Minor) discovered the slain Icarius, they both took their own lives where Icarius lay. Zeus places Icarius, Maera and Erigone in the stars as the constellations Botes, Canis Minor and Virgo.

Perhaps the most common depiction of this constellation was that of Dike, goddess of justice and the spirit of moral order, often referred to as Dike Astraea.

In Greek mythology, Astraea, the "Star-Maiden" was the last of the immortals to live with humans during the first two Ages of Man. Greek poet Ovid divided history into four Ages and Dike Astraea's story is directly related to these ages.

Ian Ridpath tells the story, using the name Dike:

Erigone by Charles Andr van Loo
(1747); Source: Wikipedia
"Dike was supposed to have lived on Earth in the Golden Age of mankind, when Cronus ruled Olympus. It was a time of peace and happiness, a season of perennial spring when food grew without cultivation and humans never grew old. Men lived like the gods, not knowing work, sorrow, crime, or war. Dike moved among them, dispensing wisdom and justice.

Then, when Zeus overthrew his father Cronus on Olympus, the Silver Age began, inferior to the age that had just passed. In the Silver Age, Zeus shortened springtime and introduced the yearly cycle of seasons. Humans in this age became quarrelsome and ceased to honor the gods.

Dike longed for the idyllic days gone by. She assembled the human race and spoke sternly to them for forsaking the ideals of their ancestors. Worse is to come, she warned them. Then she spread her wings and took refuge in the mountains, turning her back on mankind.
Virgo in Sky of Salamanca
15th century Fresco by Fernando Gallego
Souce: Wikipedia

Finally came the Ages of Bronze and Iron, when humans descended into violence, theft, and war. Unable to endure the sins of humanity any longer, Dike abandoned the Earth and flew up to heaven, where she sits to this day next to the constellation of Libra, which some see as the scales of justice." [End of quote].

Sources: Ian Ridpath, Wikipedia
Greek Star Names

The name Syrma (Σύρμα) was given to ι Virginis by Ptolemy, describing the Train of the Virgin's robe.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Roman Mythology

The transition from Dike Astraea to Virgo happened relatively late in Greek history. Both Ptolemy, in the Almagest, and Hyginus in the Poeticon Astronomicon called the constellation Παρθένος - Parthenos, which is Greek for virgin.

The Babylonian and Greek interpretation survived in Roman mythology with an association with Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships.



Parthenos in Poeticon Astronomicon
Source: fineartamerica.com
Latin Star Names

Spica the name of α Virginis goes back to the Mesopotamian interpretation of parts of the constellation Virgo being seen as an ear of grain.

In roman depictions of Ceres, the goddess holds an ear of wheat in her hand. The name Spica is derived from the Latin spīca virginis, meaning the virgin's ear of (wheat) grain.

Source: Wikipedia

Going along with the theme of fertility, Porrima (γ Virginis) is named after one of the Roman goddesses of childbirth. According to Wikipedia, Antevorta, also known as Porimma, and her sister Postvorta "... were invoked by pregnant women as protectors against the dangers of childbirth."

Source: Wikipedia

Vindemiatrix, the name of ε Virginis is Latin for the grape-harvestress. It is a Latin translation of the Greek Protrygetor (Προτρυγετής), used by Ptolemy.

Προτρυγετής translates to "Fruit-plucking Herald." In ancient times, the Heliacal rising of the star took place at the beginning of the grape harvesting season.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Germanic Mythology

In his interpretation of the Vlundarkviða, a mythological poems of the Poetic Edda, Peter Krger identifies the constellation Virgo as Bvildr (or Bodhild), daughter of king Nihad (who, in Krger's theory is represented by Botes).

In early Germanic mythology, Bvildr was the tragic victim of Wayland the smith's revenge on her father. (For Wayland's complete story, see Hercules).

From her mother, Bvildr had inherited a broken ring, once made by Wayland. When she took the ring to the smith to have it mended, Wayland took the ring and raped her, fathering a son.

In later Scandinavian versions, however, Bvildr and Wayland were a happy couple, parents of hero Viga.

According to Peter Krger, Bvildr's ring is represented by Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.

Bvildr, handing the broken ring to Weyland
1901 illustration by Johannes Gehrts
Source: religion.wikia.org
Source: Germanic Astronomy: The Kneeling man and the Virgin with the Golden Ring

Medieval Europe - Vexillum and Tarabellum

Roughly one half of today's constellation was defined by Ptolemy in the first century. The other half was the result of the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th century. In the 1,400 years between these two eras, only two new constellations creations were added to the European sky.

Around the year 1225, Scottish mathematician and scholar Michael Scot added two constellations, Vexillum and Tarabellum to the horoscopes he developed for Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (During the Middle Ages, there was no distinction between astronomy and astrology and Scot worked in both fields).

Scot describes the location of Vexillum as partially in Leo and partially in Virgo and the location of Tarabellum as partially in Sagittarius and partially in Virgo.

From the 13th to the 16th century, Vexillum and Tarabellum were displayed in European astrological and astronomical manuals as equals among the constellations of the Zodiac.

With the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment and the separation of Astrology and Astronomy, both constellations slowly disappeared.

Source: atlascoelestis.com



Il Dittamondo, 1355 Souce: atlascoelestis.com

Arabian Peninsula: as-simakan - The Sky Raisers

as-simakan (السماكان), The Sky Raisers is one of eleven Folkloric Celestial Complexes identified in the Arabic Star Catalog, developed by Danielle Adams at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The two main stars of this complex are Arcturus (α Botis) and Spica (α Virginis).

According to Danielle Adams, on the Arabian Peninsula, the term simak "... indicated something that was used to raise something else high up." When the Two Sky-Raisers reached the midpoint of their travels across the night sky, Arcturus was almost at the zenith while Spica was almost directly below it, about halfway up the sky.

The Sky Raisers; presentation by Danielle Adams
Source: Arab Star Calendars

The Two Sky-Raisers, the brightest and tenth brightes stars visible in the night sky of the northern hemisphere were "... the pillars that held up the canopy of the heavens."

The complex was divided into two parts. The Spear-Bearing Sky-Raiser and the Unarmed Sky-Raiser.

as-simak al-azal (السماك الأعزل), The Unarmed Sky-Raiser, the lower one of the Two Sky-Raisers, was represented by Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. It resides on a Throne, made up of stars from today's constellations Corvus.
Source: Arab Star Calendars

For the Spear-Bearing Sky-Raiser, see the detailed description of the constellation Botes

For more information on this ancient Sky Raiser complex, see Danielle Adams' essay The Setting of the Arabian Sky-Raisers: Widespread rains of summer.

Islamic Astronomy

Today, α Virginis goes by the Latin name Spica (see above). In the Arab world, the star was known as as-simak al-azal, the Unarmed Sky-Raiser (see above). Other Arabic names were Alarph, the grape-gatherer and Sumbalet, derived from sunbulah (سنبلة), Ear of Grain - both Arabic translations of traditional Greek and Latin names.

According to Ihsan Hafez, α Virginis is the center of the 14th Arabic Lunar Mansion, called al-simāk, referring to the Sky Raiser.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ihsan Hafez, R.H. Allen

The Arabic name for ε Vir was Mukdim al Kitāf - a translation of its Latin name Vindemiatrix, the grape-harvestress.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ihsan Hafez, R.H. Allen

R.H. Allen puts ι Virginis, together with κ and φ Virginis in a Lunar Mansion called al-ghafr (الغفر) the Covering.

al-ghafr is the source of the official name of φ Virginis: Elgafar.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ihsan Hafez, R.H. Allen

R.H. Allen calls al-ghafr the 13th Lunar Mansion. Ihsan Hafez, on the other hand, numbers it as the 15th Lunar Mansion and names the stars belonging to it as ι, λ and χ Virginis.

Sources: Ihsan Hafez, R.H. Allen

Coptic Star Names

Walter Ewing Crum, a Scottish scholar in Coptic language identified the source of Khambalia, the name of
λ Virginis as a Lunar Station from a Coptic manuscript. The meaning of the name, however, remains unknown.

Source: Wikipedia,

al ʽawwāʼ - the Barker

In a star catalogue published by Egyptian astronomer Muḥammad al-Akhṣāṣī al-Muwaqqit, a V-shaped asterism (now called the Bowl of Virgo) was called al ʽawwāʼ, the Barker.

According to Ihsan Hafez, al-ʽawwāʼ is the 13th Arabic Lunar Mansion, consisting of β, γ, δ, ε and η Virginis.

In Islamic Astronomy, al ʽawwāʼ was also the name used for the constellation Botes.

Al ʽAwwāʼ - the Barker
Map based on a map provided by seasky.org

In the "Barker" constellation, the name of β Vir, zāwiyat al-awwa, corner of the barker was the origin of the star's modern name Zavijava.

al-Muwaqqit's name for γ Vir was Laouiyet al Aoua, the angle of the barker.'

δ Vir was called Min al-ʽawwāʼ, meaning "in the lunar mansion of ʽawwāʼ." It is the root of its modern name Minelauva.

The traditional (and official) name for η Vir is Zaniah (from zāwiyah, meaning corner). However, in al-Muwaqqit's catalogue, it was called Thanih al Aoua, the second barker.

In addition to the five stars of the "Bowl", μ Virginis bore the name Rijl al-awwā, foot of the barker.

Sources: R.H. Allen, Wikipedia, Ihsan Hafez

Ancient India

In Hindu astronomy, Spica (α Vir) forms the 14th Lunar Mansion or Nakshatra, called Chitra, the Bright One.

In Hindu mythology, this Nakashtra is associated with Vishvakarma, the divine architect of the gods.

Sources: Wikipedia, Chander Mohan

Vishvakarma
Source: Wikipedia

Ancient China

In Chinese, Virgo is written 室女座

The northern part of Virgo is located in Ti Wēi Yun, the Supreme Palace Enclosure.

The enclosure was by walls on the east and west, each consisting of a chain of five bright stars and a number of fainter stars. Tiwēizuǒyun, the left (eastern) wall started with η Virginis and stretched northwards, including γ, δ, and ε Virginis, extending further into Coma Berenices.

Tiwēiyuyun, the right wall started at β Virginis and continued from there into Leo.

Within the walls, a group of faint stars, including ξ, ν, π, ο and ω Virginis form Nipng, the Inner Screen.

Chinese asterisms in Virgo
Map based on seasky.org

Walls of the Forbidden City; china.org.cn

The Left and Right Wall enclose a total of seventeen asterisms, most of them representing various groups of dignitaries, military and court officials. They belong to six different western constellations. Three of the asterisms are located within Virgo:

Sāngōng, Three Excellencies are formed by 31 and 35 Virginis, Jiǔqīng, Nine Ministers or Nine Senior Officers is formed by faint stars around ρ Virginis and Yzhě, the Usher to the Court are centered at 16 Virginis.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath

In China, the southern part of the constellation Virgo is located in the direction of the Azure Dragon of the East occupying two of the seven Lunar Mansions in this quadrant.

Three Excellencies; Wikiversity
Jiǎo, the Horn (of the Azure Dragon) is the name of the First Lunar Mansion in Chinese Astronomy.

The name Jiǎo is also given to an asterism consisting of α and ζ Virginis

The two stars also form one of many so-called gateways for the Sun, Moon, and planets, formed by stars located on opposite sides of the ecliptic.

Another one of these gateways, consisting of θ and 82 Virginis is called Pngdo, the Flat Road. It is seen as a straight road for the Sun, Moon, and the planets.

Yet another gate, called Tiānmn, the Celestial Gate is formed by the faint stars 53 and 69 Virginis.

Also part of the First Lunar Mansion is a heavenly field, called Tiāntin, the Celestial Farmland, consisting of τ and σ Virginis (or possibly 78 Virginis. According to Ian Ridpath, the Emperor ordered the heavenly fields to be plowed "...every spring before the years crops were sown."

Finally, there was a single star called Jnxin, literally "Recommending Virtuous Men." Ian Ridpath describes the star as "...representing people of outstanding achievement being recommended for honors or awards." and identifies it as possibly θ Virginis, while Wikipedia assigns the asterism to 44 Virginis.

Kng, the Neck (of the Azure Dragon) is the name of Second Lunar Mansion in Chinese Astronomy.

The name Kng is also given to an asterism consisting of λ, κ, ι, φ, μ and υ Virginis and a number of fainter stars.

In 2016, the IAU's Working Group on Star Names assigned the name Kang to κ Virginis.

Ian Ridpath adds two more interesting facets to the picture of Kng.

He writes that "...Kng was also visualized in another way more relevant to Chinese society, as a government department administering various home affairs."

Dragon Horns; missmonster

Heavenly Fields
Source: 24 Chinese Solar Terms in Season

Azure Dragon of the East
Source: Encyclopedia of Monsters

Ian Ridpath continues: "Near Kang was the similarly named Kngch, representing a lake with sailing boats. According to Sun and Kistemaker, Kngch originally consisted of 110, 109, and Mu Virginis, plus three other stars in Libra. Over time, though, it was moved north, first to six stars straddling the border between Virgo and Botes and finally ending up as four faint stars in Botes alone."

Sources: Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath

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